My final weekend in the GP3 Series, at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, brought mixed emotions. On the one hand, it was great to wrap up the runner-up position in the 2017 championship. On the other, it was probably one of most difficult weekends in my two years of GP3.
I came into the event with a six-point lead over my ART Grand Prix team-mate Nirei Fukuzumi in the battle for second in the standings. But it just wasn’t our weekend at all. We tried a couple of different things on the car to see if we could improve it, but it’s been quite difficult. Something wasn’t gelling at all. As a group ART struggled, and it was a bit worse for me.
In free practice I had one or two small issues and it didn’t look that bad initially. There were some explanations for why I was a little bit off, but it didn’t seem to be anything that couldn’t be fixed easily enough. Going into qualifying, I felt as if I could fight for a good position. But in qualifying we had problem after problem and it was my worst session of the year. Nothing felt as if it was working well, and I ended up 15th fastest. Usually, if we have a bad session, that’s good enough for fourth or fifth, but this was of a different magnitude, and we need to dig in to find out what went wrong. There were balance issues, but it was probably a combination of things, and we need to be careful before we jump to any conclusions.
Frustratingly, the first race had barely got started when things went wrong. It’s unusual for me to be so far back in the field, and I have to say that driving standards this weekend in this area haven’t impressed me. One of my competitors decided he could continue with half a front wing, which was rapidly becoming no front wing, and it flew up and landed directly on my left-front trackrod and bent it quite severely. As the race went on, under braking loads and over the kerbs, it got worse and worse. I felt it might be a slow puncture at first, but in the end I had a quite severely misaligned left-front wheel, though I carried on through to the end because the results of race one decide the grid for the second race, so I just needed to get as good a grid position as I could.
I finished the first race 14th, which meant this is where I started Sunday’s race. I knew what I had to do in terms of keeping second in the championship, and that was to keep Nirei, who had finished one place behind me in race one after his own problems, in sight. I had a good start, but got boxed out at the first corner, and then I just tried to follow Nirei through the pack.
It was good fun at times. At one point he jumped a couple of cars ahead of me and I got stuck behind Kevin Joerg. Joerg and I had opposing philosophies on our set-up, his seeming stronger in the middle and end of the race, whereas mine was to be strong earlier. Then, when I saw Nirei drop out, I knew it was all over. I finished 8th after penalties, just grabbing a point! With Nirei scoring nothing that was job done. A bit of an anti-climax to finish the year, but now we can close the book and move forwards.
It’s good to finish runner-up – I feel like I’ve actually had a difficult year, so to end it second in GP3 is pretty good. But I and Renault, who do so much for my career through giving me a place on the Renault Sport Academy, have high standards and we felt that winning this championship was achievable. I’ve learned a lot, and it’s highlighted a few things that I can work on and go into next year as a better driver.
I’m staying in Abu Dhabi for a few days now, because we have the three-day test for the FIA Formula 2 Championship coming up on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. That’s my target for next year, and I’m looking forward to trying something different and hopefully finding out a little bit more about the new challenge for 2018!